SALEM, Mass. ( TheStreet) -- As AT&T ( T), Verizon ( VZ) and Sprint ( S) slug it out in the bloated telecommunications industry, several smaller markets have gone overlooked. Picking up patches in areas such as the Caribbean and the Midwest has fallen to smaller players like Salem, Mass.-based Atlantic Tele-Network ( ATNI). By focusing on regions that are less hotly contested, Atlantic Tele-Network has carved out a niche that has proven to be profitable. Atlantic Tele-Network's stock has more than doubled over the past year, driven by strong earnings and acquisitions of some Alltel assets that Verizon was required to sell after its purchase of the wireless carrier. Atlantic Tele-Network's fourth-quarter profit is projected by analysts to jump 65% to 71 cents a share. Revenue next year may almost triple to $717.2 million, they say. With an operating margin of 34% and a return on equity of 16%, that increase could mean a leap in profitability for shareholders. The stock yields 1.5%, amounting to a payout ratio of about 15% -- very secure. The company features a stable capital structure. It boasts almost $100 million in cash and debt of less than $75 million. Even with the addition of about $225 million in debt to cover the $200 million acquisition of the Alltel assets, Atlantic Tele-Network will still have a comfortable capital structure, with about 60% of financing coming from debt. The acquisitions will probably lead to a stronger return on equity as the company will be adding significant assets by further leveraging its capital structure.
It may be hard to see beyond the big three when considering the mobile-phone marketplace, but Atlantic Tele-Network offers much better growth potential than the big names, which are fighting for 1% to 2% in market-share swings. Beyond the interesting strategic choices that Atlantic Tele-Network offers, there's also the fact that its price-to-earnings ratio of 19.8 values the company at a discount compared with its wireless-carrier competitors, which have an average P/E ratio of 24.6. -- Reported by David MacDougall in Boston.